Thursday, February 26, 2009

This Editing Life

An email I sent to Matt DiGangi regarding the first batch of poetry submissions I reviewed for The Jargon:


lol. It's fun to receive an email from a complete stranger that starts out very formal and complementary, and transforms as it goes into a diatribe about finger-fucking someone's knife wounds and tentacle rape. You must look forward to opening your email every day.

I sent rejection letters for most of these poems. The gist of all of the rejections was 'we're going to have to pass on these, but thanks for considering us'. I thought a couple people were promising, so I gave them some more specific encouragement.

Garrison Keillor says in his 'Good Poems' Anthology that some poems are ' condoms on the beach, evidence that someone was here once and had an experience, but not of great interest to the passerby.' So far, those are pretty much my thoughts exactly about this first bunch.

I can tell this experience is going to deepen my understanding of what makes a good poem. It will definitely be exciting when I finally come across that beach condom that makes me want to climb inside it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thieves Jargon

Last week, Matt Digangi asked me to be the new poetry editor for Thieves Jargon. I said yes, and now it's official.

This should be fun.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Relax, Joy.

Ann Coulter is usually very fun to watch on television, especially when she is being interviewed by sanctimonious liberals who know way less than she does. Coulter is funny, nimble, and relaxed in this interview: The clear victor.

There are too many liberals that are unable to laugh at their own idiosyncracies and ideological shortcomings. After years of being the butt of the joke in so much satire and political comedy, most conservatives have learned to appreciate humor that comes at their expense. Until a larger number of liberals in our country learn the same lesson, Ann Coulter will always have ripe material to mine, and I will continue to be entertained.

"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."-Voltaire.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A line in Sartre's Existentialism Is A Humanism that made me chuckle the first time I read it: "And when we speak of 'abandonment'--One of Heideggers favorite expressions--we merely mean to say that God does not exist, and that we must bear the fully consequences of that assertion'.


It's Sartre's use of the word merely that gets me. What an underappreciated word, and what a strange word to use to describe the thought that this world is a godless one. There doesn't seem to be anything mere about the existence of God. At least, not in any way I can think about it. defines the word this way:

–adverb 1. only as specified and nothing more; simply: merely a matter of form.
2. Obsolete. a. without admixture; purely.
b. altogether; entirely.

1400–50; late ME mereli. See mere 1 , -ly

But we discover a more substantial meaning to his use of the word a little further on:

" The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely disturbing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that “the good” exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote: “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted”; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse. For if indeed existence precedes essence, one will never be able to explain one’s action by reference to a given and specific human nature; in other words, there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom."

Now, this is a bold statement, and one we need not embrace in totality. Even Sartre was very careful to hedge his bets about the existence of God. You can believe or not believe in God and accept the following proposition: Man is free, and thus must decipher a meaning for himself. He is responsible for his own actions and decisions, and is responsible for the person he chooses to be. No one is born a hero or a coward, therefore no one has a right to resign themselves to accepting such stations. We are what we make ourselves.

The bottom-line question Sartre asks us to ask ourself when deciding (through action) what kind of person we are to be is this: If everyone else in the world acted as I am, would this be a good world?

Apparently there is more to merely than I had initially thought.

the exact opposite of an existential worldview:

*The image at the top of the page comes from

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Alpha & Omega

Every now and then people get to wondering whether or not Adam and Eve had belly-buttons. The reason people wonder about this is because if these original creatures weren't born of a woman, they wouldn't have needed to receive sustenance through an umbilical cord. I think this is a reasonable question for people to ask. Another reasonable thing for people to ponder about the days in the garden is this: Adam and Eve didn't have umbilical cords, but the apple that they ate off of the tree of knowledge had a stem.

What do you think about that?

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Heart Valentine's Day

I.The following comments about Valentine's Day always irritate me:

1. Valentine's Day is just a made-up holiday that the greeting card industry uses to make a quick buck.

2. My man/woman (usually man) should love me all year 'round. If he/she needs a holiday to remind him/her, I'm not interested.


Regarding the first instance I say, of course Valentine's Day is just a made up holiday. All holidays are just made up holidays. Do you think the first of mankind to crawl out of the primordial sludge was greeted with specific instructions on how to carve the Thanksgiving day turkey? Of course not.

Regarding the second part of the first instance: this is America. We're a capitalist country. to survive in a capitalist society (and any society for that matter), you need to make capital. Besides, what else is the greeting card industry going to make money on?

The second instance is irritating for its solipsism, and its shortsightedness. The solipsism is evident, but the lack of perspective regarding the definitions of who we are that can be derived from the holidays we choose to celebrate, is alarming.

Christmas and Thanksgiving are celebrations of family and communion. They also give us opportunities to be generous and thankful. Halloween provides our children with an opportunity to experiment with different aspects of their personality by playing dress-up, and it's the closest our culture ever comes to acknowledging death. New Year's is a chance to celebrate our successes and reset our goals. It also can serve as a good marker to measure our achievements against.

Valentine's Day is just as important. It's an opportunity for us to celebrate our partnerships, and to meditate on our loves. It's like a New Year's for the heart. And, besides, who doesn't like a little bit of champagne, dark chocolate, and Chet Baker every now and then?

There is also a certain hedonism to Valentine's Day that I find irresistable.

II. For 20+ years, Ted Kooser (a great poet) has been writing a Valentine's Day poem for an ever enlarging list of women, and mailing it to them. "Valentine's Day is a great holiday for the poet...It's not tied up with anything other than expressions of sentiment." Check it out.

III. Here is something of a universal Valentine poem that appeared in my e-book, Mule & Horse. I wrote it in honor of those wonderful devices that carry women from point A to point B.


Your legs
Your olive legs
Your caramel
Pink tan legs

Are the scissors
That cut my concentration

Through halls
Designed to indulge echo
You clip
My head

Your legs
Your thick legs
Your soft
Tattooed legs

Should require
A license to operate.

IV. And here's a poem I wrote more specifically for my wife, from the same collection:


As your breasts
make their glacial excursion
towards your hips,

and my balls begin to droop
like a Halloween bag
full of too much candy:

I will pause
(from time to time)
and remember years before:

when our two taut bodies
were so easily entertained
by such equally firm surfaces.

We explored them ruthlessly:
Like conquistadors,
looking for golden cities.

I will smile,
and consider these current days:
Terrain complex. Unpredictable.

A safari nowadays of the many
curves and folds,
may take months of planning.

And only god knows
how many hired natives
will be lost along the way.

V. Have a fun, happy, sexy, wonderfully indulgent & celebratory Valentine's Day everyone!

Flight Of The Conchords:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Few Things We May Have In Common

On Saturday, My family and I accepted an invitation from a friend to go to church with her. It was one of those big, non-denominational super churches with stadium seating and free coffee.

I didn’t expect to get much out of the experience. I’m an agnostic, and a devoted skeptic:I think this is the main reason my friend invited me. I think she wanted to show me how cool Christians could be.

I don’t think she understood that it wasn’t the coolness of Christians that I doubted. It was the validity of the claims found in their foundational document.

So I sat with my friend, my wife, and my oldest son in the enormous, high-tech amphitheater. My mind kept flashing to images of Richard Dawkins sitting in Ted Haggard’s super-church in The Root Of All Evil. I imagined myself being like that: there to observe. An independent thinker among the faithful.

And then the band began to play. They were good. They sounded and looked like any number of Christian rock groups out there: vaguely ‘alternative’ sounding music played by a handful of goateed young men in skate shoes and beanies. But it sounded good. It was passionate. My son danced in the aisle.

After a short video, the preacher came out and delivered his message on the book of Ezekiel. He was a compelling speaker, and the audience was enrapt. He told us that ‘the world as we know it’ is always ending, and that if we put our faith in worldly things rather than God, we will always be disappointed.

I appreciated the language he used. He reminded the congregation that all nations fall, and that there is nothing special about the U.S.A. He told us that yes, the U.S. was just another nation among many, and it too some day would fall. He told us not to get too comfortable with our taboos and our cultures, because they would go bye-bye too someday.

While I was appreciative of this tone, and the practicality of this message (which could be delivered outside of a religious context just as easily as within), I wasn’t deeply moved. But then the preacher started talking about the way we should interact with each other, essentially saying we should be the most genuine version of ourselves possible. We should be open to new evidence, yes, but we should state boldly those things which we were certain we knew. We should accept challenges to those dearly held ideas, and be willing to change them if we should discover they were wrong. We should proselytize on behalf of that which we knew to be true. And then he showed this video:

The preacher introduced Penn as ‘A famous, crass atheist.’ And at the completion of the clip, simply said, ‘Interesting’, and moved on.

I had been blindsided.

I’m a fan of Penn’s persona, and share a lot of his ideas. He’s a fun, thoughtful character that I associated with my little sphere of resources. I was surprised to see his face on the jumbotron at a super-church, and even more surprised to see it up there as an example of a viewpoint the preacher agreed with.

Penn’s word’s touched me, and at that moment I realized that I wasn’t so different than the people in the seats around me. It’s very easy to go through life in this country playing it safe, not speaking our minds on controversial issues, being p.c., and generally not delving too deeply into who we really are or what we really believe. That wasn’t the case with me, and it didn't seem to be the case with the other people in that audience. We were all people willing to stand up and claim our beliefs. We were all a bunch of dry bones looking for answers. At that moment, I felt connected to everyone around me.

Were I the kind of person to believe such things, I would think it was more than coincidental that the preacher chose to tie a meditation from Penn Jillette into his sermon. It would almost seem like he was saying, ‘That’s right Spencer. You’re an Agnostic. You don’t know for certain that I’m here, and you’re even less inclined to believe that I’ve ever dictated a book to any group of human beings, anywhere. Good. That’s who you are. Don’t feel bad about it. Be brave. This is who you are.’

But of course, that would be a silly thing for God to say.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Colds & Coughs

I’m just getting over a nasty little cold that knocked me out of the game for three solid days. Lots of coughing and dizziness, along with a few less savory side effects. But I got to do a little non-productive reading, as well as spend some time staring at the ceiling and watching cartoons on TV. What I like best about colds is the moment before the bad stuff really hits (when you are a little light-headed and euphoric), and the moment right after you realize that you are better, and it becomes clear how good better actually is. Another fun thing about being sick--if you are married--is being waited on by a patient, doting spouse. My wife brought me Gatorade, medicine, and soup (when I could take it). She kept the kids entertained and kept our vessel floating seamlessly while I recuperated. Mad props to the lady of the house.

When one part of the team is down, we are given the opportunity to repay them for the hard work they have put into making this family work. By making sure they are comfortable, seeing to it that they have something fun and meaningless to read (and never run out of 7 up), we can say we're glad you're part of the team.

There is perhaps a bigger opportunity for the person that is down, however. That is the opportunity to be grateful to have someone willing to look after them when they need it, no strings attached. In this culture of self sufficiency and self service--where everything is attainable for a price, and every lesson that is learned comes at the cost of some amount of blood on the floor--to find oneself truly grateful for a gift given purely out of love is a wonderful and unusual thing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


According to The Telegraph, Scientists from Conservation International recently discovered ten new species of amphibians in Colombia. Thank you Colombia, for Bandeja Paisa, good coffee, Shakira's hips, and now, this neat discovery. I can't wait to see what you offer the world next.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Medicine Cabinet Recommends

1. Now that Barack Obama has been sworn in, and is hard at work on his economic recovery package and the minutia of governing, many of his most ardent supporters are feeling a little down. No more encouraging speeches. No more rallies. No excuse to buy candidate-themed merchandise.

Where to put all of that energy, now that the horse race is over? Obviously, Obama was looking to be more than motivational speaker of state. He's hunkered down over his desk, oblivious to the rousing his rabble desires. So they've moved on. The people are looking for a new iconic figure to lead them out of the wilderness. Results have not been promising thus far:

2.Frank Rich tells beltway republicans to grow up or get out of the way.

3. Bill Clinton at the World Economic Forum:

4. I'm no economic genius. That's why I appreciated this fleshing out of our current economic situation, provided by This American Life.

5.Science & Faith:

6.Life. This is a poem I wrote about a year ago for Dan Tricarico's Litsnack experiment. It's message is very apropos to my situation right now as I try to secure letters of recommendation for grad school, and try to land a job in my field in this shoddy economy. It also seems relevant to the mood of our nation right now: We're rolling up our sleeves and trying to solve some serious problems at home and abroad, so our children won't have to.

7. "Cash Rules Everything Around Me":